Bearss Blog: No guarantees on Iditarod Trail
Nothing is guaranteed on the Iditarod Trail, as we’ve seen thus far. Patience plays as great a part in the final standings as speed, endurance and talent.
You must play your cards to the strength of your team and not take the bait by trying to race your competitor. However, when your competition falters, that patience must also be supported by the intimate knowledge of your team’s strength and ability to seize control.
Throughout this race, I and many others were ready to crown first Mitch Seavey and then Nic Petit as future champions, only to have a steady Viking slip in with an unassuming surge to the front. Victory will only come to the team who crosses under the Burled Arch first.
Joar Ulsom's race was never flashy-- his persona on the trail echoed the attention he drew: quiet, few words, gracious, but never boastful. He led only for a short stretch as he drove into his 24-hour rest in Iditarod, beyond the resting spots of Mitch and Nic. The trail to Iditarod, however, would be blasted by wind and snow, setting him up for a run more than three-hours slower than Nic.
If not for this singular event, Joar would have been racing up the Yukon right with Nic-- or even ahead-- and our conversation may have been different for the last half of the race.
Once on the coast, Joar allowed the opportunity for the race to flip by remaining steady and close enough to strike when opportunity revealed itself.
While Nic and Mitch pushed forward to a windy shelter cabin past Shaktoolik, Joar demonstrated his patience and stayed in Shaktoolik. Joar’s short rest in the relative shelter behind the armory in Shak is guaranteed to have been better than Nic or Mitch would have at the exposed shelter cabin, where winds whipped at their teams.
Passing Nic may have been inevitable for Joar, but in the blinding snow and caution informed by a fear of running into the open ocean, Nic made the pass easier with a detour toward the shoreline looking for the safety of a nonexistent overland trail.
During Nic’s foray to the coastline, Joar unknowingly passed and seized the lead for good.
A rest in Koyuk-- accompanied by Nic-- Joar pulled the biggest move of the race by eschewing rest in Elim-- throwing down the gauntlet and Thor’s hammer simultaneously.
Joar left without straw, leaving no doubt in the minds of anyone, that he had no intention of resting on the trail, daring Nic to challenge him. This demonstration of trust in his team and knowledge of what they could do over 800 miles into the race may be the real defining moment of the race. Had he not passed Nic on the ice, he may have deployed this same strategy and still cemented his place as the second Norwegian to claim victory in Nome.
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